As we exit the “dog days of summer,” it may be a good time to share the past fiscal year’s advocacy work prepared by our Government Affairs team. It’s a short digest and we invite you to dig deeper by looking at our website, including the Advocacy Page which includes the State Budget, Bill Priorities and Policy Issues.
We don’t review here our federal level advocacy where we’ve worked to prevent elimination or cuts to the government programs which are critical to our constituents and state. We’ve remained active through The Arc’s national leadership.
Legislators of the Year: This year, Representative Denise Garlick is The Arc’s legislator of the year. Chair of the Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery, she represents Dover, Needham, and parts of Medfield in the state legislature. Senator James Eldridge is the MDDC legislator of the year. Chair of the Committee on Financial Services, his seat is known as Middlesex and Worcester.
Budget: We made headway on multiple Department of Developmental Services (DDS) and MassHealth line items. In addition to full funding for those Turning 22 this year (students transitioning to adult services), we received increases totaling $42 million for residential, day/employment, family support, autism children, and transportation. The AFC program at MassHealth received a $2 million rate restoration over 2018 funding. Although the new funding does not meet all unmet needs, the growth will have an impact for many families.
Policy – Legislation: We had eight (8) high priority bills. The Senate passed the Abuse Registry, also known as Nicky’s Law, during the formal session, and we hope that the bill will pass the full legislature in the fall. Other priority bills which passed through two committees into consideration include Operation House Call; Massachusetts Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment (MAICEI); Dental Access; and Criminal Justice Training in Autism. One or all of these could pass during informal sessions.
Policy – Administration: Among many developments and touchstones, two major policy events overshadow the rest. MassHealth changed how individuals access their health care through private health entities throughout the state. At various points, we educated our constituents with fact sheets, webinars, and other means. This continues to be something we are tracking as it affected 1 million citizens and thousands of those we serve. DDS filed new federal waiver renewals for “Home and Community Based Services” – these renewals underlie the state’s services for most of our adult constituents. Other activities included continuing our collaborative Supporting Families Campaign; advancing more personalized choice in services; advocating for changes in the Adult Family/Foster Care program; and beginning a plan to address the significant shortage of workers in our field.
In closing, let’s not forget the participation of others, whether it be the thousands of emails sent from our action center site; the 100-plus legislators who were active on bills or budgets; and/or Governor Charlie Baker, Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo, Senator Karen Spilka, and Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders who attended our annual legislative reception joined by hundreds of guests.
It was a year of accomplishment and participation, which we need to continue again this year if we are to succeed!
Leo V. Sarkissian